Friday, August 24, 2012

Stalking Poetry

Is there a difference between metaphor and allegory? If so, what is that difference?

If I remember from my old high school American Literature classes correctly - and I probably don't - the difference between a metaphor and a simile is pretty straightforward in that a simile has "like" or "as" next to it, comparing two things, and a metaphor is simply a substitute for the actual thing in question.

Loose as a goose. Crazy like a fox. Two bad similes, but similes nonetheless.

I always fall back on the metaphor-rich poem "The Highwayman" when I scratch my brain for examples of metaphors: "The road was a ribbon of moonlight. The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas." Not "as" or "like" like similes - just a poetic substitute.

"I have fallen through a trapdoor of depression," said Mark, who was fond of theatrical metaphors. (An example from my dictionary.)

Some of my most favorite metaphors and similies escape into the air from the lines of the poetry of American poet Carl Sandburg: "... a voice like a north wind blowing over corn stubble in January." "Sunday night and the park policemen tell each other it is as dark as a stack of black cats on Lake Michigan..." And - my favorite, I think - "Mamie beat her head against the bars of a little Indiana town..."

I feel rather silly speaking of these things here, since there are several people who write and even teach these things for a living, who might pass by here and chuckle at my pained explanations. But remember, this blog is mostly me talking to myself, trying to interpret, trying to become clear.

Now, as to "allegory," I think it is much like metaphor except there is often a hidden meaning (or perhaps moral) that makes the reader think a bit about what the writer is really saying. Underlying meanings, sometimes, these allegories. And sometimes longer stories in themselves. For example, I think a lot of the old fairy tales are allegories of good vs. evil. Certainly Aesop's Fables are meant to suggest some moral. Jesus often spoke in parables, another form of allegory, meant to convey a complex subject in more simple terms. Poetry, of course, uses all these forms as tools of language, but usually in a shorter space.

All of this ties into poetry, the fun of poetry, the satisfaction of poetry; and I intend to learn more about it. If not to actually write it, at least to be better informed so as to enjoy it more.


  1. Hmmmmm.... your comments have disappeared. For I am certain goatman took you to task regarding the dissection of poems. Nonetheless, I've posted a 'poetic' response to your questing.

    Like a beautiful woman is a sum of her many beautiful parts, what catches our eye, traps our gaze as we follow her round the room is more than just her parts. Yes we can appreciate her lovely pert bosoms, the sinuous move of her walk, her rounded derriere, but her allure, the very essence of her that captivates are all those things and something more. Something intangible. And her mystery is what keeps us gazing and desiring.

    So it is with poetry. While a basic knowledge of poetics can help one to enjoy a poem, it is not necessarily vital. A poem's beautiful mystery is a combination of its words and your response to it. It is what you bring to the reading and what you take away. It is feeling. (Which for one as analytical as you might find silly or inconsequential). Yes a poem can appeal to our intellect and to our emotions simultaneously or separately. But a great poem .... ohhhh ... a great poem swallows us, engulfs us, challenges our perceptions, sends us tumbling sideways and becomes a part of our own dance of life.

    A great poem will haunt you to your death.


    1. Sadly, the comments did disappear last night. I was fiddling around trying to get the "my other blogs" to appear correctly in my right sidebar and I got the bright idea to repost THIS post as a new post, thinking it would correct the wrong info in the sidebar. Silly me. When you try to copy-paste the html into a new post, all the comments attached to the original version are deleted. And there were some good ones, I thought. Ah, well.

      At any rate, your real answer lies 'way back in the posts about personality types, believe it or not. Since my type is exactly what Soub's is, I'll remind you:: 1. No one of my type gives a damn about what experts have to say about how something can or can't be done. At least not if they are simply acting as a self-appointed ultimate authority. College professors hate our type. You can take that one to the bank. We will learn the truth ourselves, often the hard way. 2. To understand the whole perfectly, you MUST examine the parts. The system is the thing for an INTP, and the system, the big picture, is parts. See?

      Finally, I am saddened by your assumption that I was trying to learn how to appreciate poetry for it's intrinsic beauty. I was not. I am not. I already know how to appreciate poetry as an innocent; it takes no effort at all. I read, and if my heart sings, I like it. That's not the part I am trying to analyze. I am trying to understand structure, that's all. Like an art critic appreciates a painting more than I do because he knows something about composition, he gets more out of a painting than I do. I am still moved by looking at certain paintings, though, even being ignorant of painting composition. For someone to say that poets are born and just flourish magically as they grow and blossom is asinine. Poets learn by writing, but poets also learn by being taught the art. There is a difference between reading poetry, and loving some of it, and writing poetry. There is. Find me a good university which doesn't offer a creative writing course - which doesn't include at least one section on poetry. Can you do that? Are these people all charlatans to think writing can be taught? Or is learning the mechanics of how good poets do it a waste of time?

      So... help me. If you want to. Instead of just treating me like a dolt and shitting on me with your smug hype about how I shouldn't try to understand, and if I have to ask, then I must be hopeless. And you can stuff your pompous Mark Twain quotes up your arse too. Not you, RDG. That came from another poet master living in the world of infinite poetry wisdom.

      I read the poetry that most of you write on your blogs. Some I don't understand, some I think (even I) is pretty bad. But some I really like. Especially this Cosmo woman. Or man. (Haven't read enough to find that out yet.) He/She is good. (But then, I wouldn't really know, would I?) The Goatman I will admit I like but don't understand much at all yet. Both I will keep reading since INTPs also have hides thicker than Rhinos.

      I DO know your inner F is going to take offense at my bluntness here. But if you can find a way to work through my honesty, I am worth knowing. I promise.

    2. Ummm.... apparently I misread your intent. I truly did think you wanted to 'learn poetic mechanics' to learn how to appreciate poetry. I did not realize you want to write it.

      I certainly hope your paragraph regarding dolts and shit was not aimed at me as I was not patronizing you in any way. This is how I think - lyrically - and my comment was one huge metaphor about loving poetry. And if it was indeed aimed at me, then yes it hurts my F.

      Right. So you want to write. A lot has been said here about it. My experience? I sat down one day and wrote a poem. After I had spoken to an old flame .... twenty years later yaddah yaddah. Then I wrote another poem. Then I started reading poems. Poems I liked; poems I didn't like. I started buying books of poetry and reading them. I have my favorites. And yes, then I started counting syllables and looking at rhyming patterns - but not for my own writing, I'm free verse all the way - but because I enjoyed figuring out some of the parts. And I kept writing poems.

      I also began buying books written by poets about the 'craft' of writing poetry. Elizabeth Bishop has a good one. One of my favorites is Tony Hoagland's Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft. Cosmo's blog is good because he has dabbled in a number of different poetic 'forms' such as sonnets, rondeaux, pantoums, villanelle etc etc. Though he's truly the master of the limerick. Soub is right - read poetry outloud and you'll learn a lot about sonics in poetry and rhythm .... bottom line though, is much the same as the advice you left at Stephanie's blog - write, write, write ...and eventually you'll get there.

      good luck

    3. The tirade wasn't aimed at you. That I tried to make clear. If I hadn't stupidly erased the other comments I could have individualized my frustration instead of lumping it. Much of the tirade, I realize too late, was also a fault of intuitives - thinking they can read behind the lines and latch on to "true meaning" where no offense is usually even meant. No longer important.

      I realize what you say above is right and I just need to start reading and then writing as much as I can even if it is not good at all at first. I suppose I can get the answers to my technical questions from poetry books. I don't like to appear incompetent by writing crap, but I guess no one has to see it at first.

      I wish I had a better developed F. That comes later in life I hope. :) You, as a born F, will never feel the frustration of being blunt and unthinking and wondering why people take it personally. You will always consider people's feelings before you open your mouth.

    4. Not always, Max. I often stick my foot in my mouth because I tend to react first, think second, feel remorse third. A good dose of logical thinking would help me tremendously (as my logical INTP likes to point out to me on occasion.) The personality types have strengths and weaknesses. I'm sure we can learn a lot from each other :)


    5. This is a poetry blog I like to visit and steal poems from:

      The blog author always 'interviews' the poet, asking the same basic questions. So you get to read a bio of the poet (you know their illustrious list of publishing); a poem they wrote; then a question / answer section on how they wrote the poem.

      Every poet is different, but you can glean a lot from their process. Dig in the archives. There are some real hidden gems in there.


  2. Close but no cigar. Poetry, not psychoanalysis. :) Poetry, I think is never only a plain uncovered cigar. I think there is ALWAYS something under the surface that is trying to be said as well as the obvious. Otherwise it would indeed just be a cigar.

    Even Freud agrees with me. I know he does. Somewhere.

    Anyway, Freud was talking about dicks when he mentioned the cigar. A whole 'nother subject.

  3. I just discovered something wonderful. The deleted comments I was so sad about are intact in the emails that Blogger sends you when a new comment is made. I don't suppose there is a way to put these comments back under the post they belong to, but at least I found a record of them. I was right: they were good. :)

  4. It looks like the Mad Hatter's Party to me. I know we aren't talking about the illustration but I am more inclined to the visual than the cerebral.

    1. You know, it HAS sort of turned into a Mad Hatter's Party at that. All of this is of my own doing, of course. I can never leave well-enough alone.

      And you are more than cerebral enough to handle me with one lobe tied behind your back. :)

      I'm glad to see you out and about blog-slumming today...

  5. Yes, I'm logged into the wrong account again.

    1. I don't mind. I love your pictures. Come to think of it, if all I had to do to get to France was drive my car a mile or so from my doorstep to a big hole in the ground and up onto a train and sleep-ride 20 minutes or so underwater, I'd take some fabulously fancy and French fotos of France fun of my own. They wouldn't be as good as yours. Most would probably be of friendly French fraulines instead of objectos de culturos. :)

      I don't care what account you sign in on, just as long as you show.

  6. My feelings regarding the rules and workings of poetry are not going to be a help to you then. Way back, I had to learn all about metre and verse, I had to dissect poems with a scalpel, and all I learned from that is that once you have their entrails spread out across the table, their tiny hearts stop beating, and whatever spark gave the poem life, is gone. No amount of drawing schematics will help you put it back together, sew its metaphors back into newly lumpy cold skin, and breathe life into its nostrils.

    Truly, I did all that analytic nonsense for too many years, and it took me quite a while before I could enjoy poetry again. I enjoy it by reading, listening to the music, the rhythms, rhymes, alliteration, simile, metaphor, but you know, that's it. That's all. I make of it what I will, I bristle at any but the poet attempting to tell me what it means, poems, books, pots, paintings, music, all are created and set adrift, for the finder to interpret, and each may interpret differently. And nobody's right, nobody's wrong.

    One of my most visited posts is that of "The Subaltern's Love Song", by John Betjeman.

    They come from google searches "What does it mean?". Well, it means what it says... Obviously this is a popular set text for students from around the globe. It seems popular in India, in particular. I suppose it contains words unfamiliar to modern youth, but it's a simple enough poem. Lord help them if they're ever to grapple with Milton, Pope, Dryden.

    I'll post a poem over at my place for you. Ogden Nash. He muses about simile and metaphor in it.

  7. Why won't anyone listen to me? I don't want to learn how to READ poetry or disembowel the pleasure from the reading. I want to learn how to WRITE poetry, and (to me) that entails learning a bit about the structure that you hang all those glorious words upon. No? No need to do that? Well, ok, then write me ten or twelve poems now off the top of your head. It's easy enough to READ a dozen of them. Hell, even Shakespeare had to learn to count to 14. If it was him writing that. :) I'm guessing SOMEBODY told him what a sonnet was. And I'm also guessing that once he knew what a sonnet was, he didn't lose all joy of reading them from that point on. Go ahead and show me how easy it is to write poetry without knowing all that stuff. Show me some of those rapturous pearls that come naturally bubbling off your tongue and pen. 'Cause I can't do it. My stuff is shite.

    It sounds like you got trapped in some kind of "poetry appreciation" class. None of us need any help "appreciating" poetry. I don't. You didn't.

    Ok, so you are saying if I wanted to take up making pottery art, it would be enough to just jump in and start DOING it? Without learning about clay varieties or technique or glazing or how not to burn my hands off? Just GO for it?

    I think not. I think not with poetry either.

    Stopping here. Trying not to lose any more friends.

  8. I did read "Subaltern" and a fine piece of poetry it was. And if you are using it as an example of how there need not be hidden meanings, fine; I see what the poem is about without having to guess at the meaning. But if you are using it as an example of how poetry doesn't need to conform to a certain syllabic rhythm sometimes, or rhyme sometimes, or have 4 lines instead of 11 sometimes... well, you would have failed, because that beautiful poem contains many of the dreaded "rules" that I want to learn.

  9. I have you down now, gagging and twisting, choking for breath, so I'm not going to let you up just yet. Instead, I'm going to analyze that beautiful poem for a while, spread its entrails across the table, as you say.

    First: I note that the poem is divided up into several groups of 4 lines. Upon further study, I'm told those groups are known as "stanzas." Whew. That didn't hurt so much, did it? I still don't know why groups of 4 lines instead of 5 lines or any separation at all, but I'll bet there is a reason. I'll bet this type of poem even has a name. So far, I have learned that someone who runs a poetry blog thinks there are 19 variations of poetic form, and each of them has a special name. Whoa. Still not daunted. Still not fearful that I will lose my appreciation for reading poetry.

    Second: I note that there is a specific "beat" to this poem. Some of the words rhyme. Some words which are in specific places rhyme. To me, that "beat" gives a certain "vibrational" character to the poem. Not a dirge. Rather happy, exhuberant, in your face even. I don't know what that rhythmic beat is called, but I'll like to find out more about how to do that kind of thing.

    Third: I note, can't help noting, that some of the words are not as plain no-nonsensically straightforward as you told me. "Aldeshot sun" "strenuous singles" "speed of a swallow" "grace of a boy" "carefulest carelessness." And those are not the half of it. So these words are NOT mere happenstance; they are carefully thought out, carefully crafted. Crafted like I want to learn how to craft. Now, he could have said "hot sun" "we played tennis" "you were fast" "I let you win but you didn't notice because I did it so subtly"... no, these are not chosen at random. I want to learn to describe things like this author did.

    Now. I could go on - but already it's pathetic little heart lies fluttering on the dissection table. I have ruined it by trying to understand it's beauty in more detail. It's mystery has slipped away.

    But no! He gasps.

    I still love this poem! What's this? I'm reading it over yet again? Still finding subtleties and sublime nuances interwoven around the lines which I had earlier missed? How can that be?

    No, my close inspection of it's construction only served to make me delight in in even more, made me want to read it again tomorrow, made me want to cut and paste it over into my Commonplace Book blog.

    Where am I going wrong that I still love this poem after gouging it in the innards?

    You can get up now. I'm not going to say anymore today about this.

  10. Gad no. I've never been trapped in a 'Poetry Appreciation' class. Nope. The title used, for seven of those years was "English Literature". I was expected to be able to dissect, explain, reassemble, and build my own.
    I do recall one tutor advising me that I had to play their game until I got the right pieces of paper, then I was free to forget it all and abandon the rules. I dare say they're still in there somewhere, along with the piano lessons I had when I was seven or eight, covered with an old sheet, gathering dust.

    I did indeed have to write sonnets. I have no idea, whatsoever, these days, what officially constitutes a sonnet.

    Yes, I hear what you're saying. There are some good books out there, which you might read, but I can't consult my library, as it and me currently live two miles apart.
    Rhyme and rhythm...
    However, to learn how to write poetry, to get a feel for what's good or not, what works, I'd say you can't do better than by reading poetry. Read Beowulf, Chaucer, early poems, read translations from greek and latin, because these are the roots and foundations that later poets built upon, read Shakespeare, read the elizabethan poets, work your way through, Milton, Blake, towards Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge, read, read, read.
    Read how different poets tackle similar themes. Find a place where nobody will be startled and send the crazyman-catchers after you and stride, declaim, orate...

    Seriously. No amount of theory will replace the value of reading aloud.
    I very rarely write poetry, I'm not good at it, nor am I patient enough.
    Joan Hunter Dunn, yes, well the language is that of early 1940s england, and

  11. Um. My brain blew a fuse.

    You could always take a poem like the Subaltern and stanza by stanza, replace it with your own words. That can be a fun exercise.

  12. "And nobody's right, nobody's wrong" says it well.
    Words tend to get in the way . . .



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